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Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City

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5 Scenarios; 3.1 Metal Letters

Another major success story was of the trader who secured contracts for 18.1% of the lettering on the monuments, statues and public grounds around London. A large amount of this lettering was worthless, comprising, as it does, hollowed out negatives - embossed parts of the stone or metal to which it is embedded. Of these, there exists a large photographic record which, one day, will serve as record of their contract-holder's predominance on their value.

In the case of others, they were metallic, and brazed on to the surfaces of the monuments and buildings. It was here that the resources of the trader proved a boon. Having the corporate ability to collect the metal from the statues, the futures he held on them were swapped out for reserves on various amounts of metal. The money made from this venture was relatively small but the trader was apt at these, small, regular and extreme transactions and kept his operation profitable.

But the dissolution of these metal letters had a disparaging side-effect. For one, on many of the hidden works - in the basements of museums, the attics of hotels or in the depths of alleyways and the obscurer fringes of civic architecture - their identity was eroded. Retrieved artifacts were nameless and untraceable, without extensive research where the only proficient records were in the serves of the New York Stock Exchange. These forgotten works became faceless and soon groups sprang up dedicated to reconstructing the history of these peripheral works.

5 Scenarios, 3 - National Identity Market

As the stalwarts of nationhood were absorbed into corporate infrastructure, auctions were held for the pieces of states that were deemed unnecessary for the business plans of the financial services. These auctions were similar to the asset auctions of 20th century mergers and acquisitions but differed in the content of the assets. These market waters were new, everything had it's own potential value. The worth of border defence infrastructure for instance; the systems of passport control, software, hardware, staff and procedures were negligible in a transnational economy, but when the same principles and technology are applied to sole traders in restrictive market bands, the uniquely paranoid security systems developed by nations provide a boon for protecting sensitive trading arenas from volatile activity.

This was the way with much of the civic infrastructure that remained, forcibly mutated to prop up the inheritance of a demanding populace. But it was with the excess - the stranger little remnants of patriotism - that the real innovation arose. Obscure instruments constructed from the remnants of national identity were snapped up by 'collectors': the stone of ancient statues, the marble of monuments, the canvas of flags, the distribution rights on national anthems, footage of national occasions and all the other varied ephemera associated with the constituent parts of a nation, presented - in totality - a potential for value greater than the debts, bonds and revenues of these ancient, dribbling bureaucratic goliaths.

One trader - LuCkYmIcKeY84 - manage to seep their way into 20 year maturity contracts on a vast quantity of cheap oil paintings populating pubs, hotels, tea shops and stately homes under the jurisdiction of the English Heritage Company and various other charities in the 2040s. LuCkYmIcKeY84 only held the contracts on around 1 - 5% of the works in any given location and so went unnoticed on a macro scale, but the sheer quantity at that level of finance led to billions of Euros worth of oil in 20 year swap terms.

Of course, the cost of a resource is determined by two mutually-dependent key factors - firstly the scarcity of the material and the demand for it, and secondly, the degree to which any actor is willing to go to in order to extract it. In the case of LuCkYmIcKeY84, the enormous and costly task of distilling oil from the paintings was disproportionate to their value as is in situe, but it still represented one of the largest oil reserves held by a sole trader in the world. The 20 year maturity on the contracts and the fear of dwindling oil supplies offset its real worth and the whole collection was insured for survival by its value as 'art' while the desire for its preservation by the various caretakers of pubs and stately homes all over what was left of England guaranteed security.

This story is an exception, but an exception of a trend that blossomed in the wake of the mergers, folding and the collapse of nations the world over, an entire market - the National Identities Market - that maximised the profitability of ancient patriotism. Taking it from some ethereal, state-mythos to a real value in the abstract mathematics of derivatives. The National Identities Market naturally evolved to reassign the urgency of preservation and insurance in heritage from an ideological obsession to good business sense.

Etoile de Varne

The Etoile de Varne is a somewhat forgotten project. Like all of the most forgotten projects, it was one of the most ambitious, and therefore one of the most unrealised which ensured it's place as one of those most forgotten. Finding traces of it is as such, extremely tough and you'll find that a simple Googling will be most unrevealing.

The Etoile... was proposed by the hydroengineer Thomas de Gamond to the incumbent Napoleon III in 1856. The idea being to mine a tunnel from Cap Grisnez to Dover at a cost of around £7 million in contemporary currency. The engineer's dream of a physical link between the British mainland and the European continent was revisited down the decades until finally being realised in the unprofitable tunnel we can pay to experience today.

Before Gamond, Napoleon I himself devised a plan for invading England in 1805, using the combination of a tunnel and aerial transportation. Again, the scale of the vision may have preempitively forbidden it's realisation - not to say that Napoleon I was not a successfully radical and innovative strategist. In 1985, a proposal for Euroroute - two five mile bridges and an underwater tunnel - had garnered £7.2 billion funding before being dropped due to a paper posting that it would run four-times over it's predicted budget. A true shame, as the experience of driving across and under the Channel strikes itself as far more adventurous and cost-effective (for the user at least) than the trains we have today. The Euroroute also bears startling similarities to Gamond's plan including the spiralled entry and exit points and the use of a combination of bridges and a tunnel, providing if anything, an updated version of the original.

Curiously, at the submerging/emerging points of the Euroroute, two open areas were proposed that motorists could exit at - the idea being that these international isles would be replete with necessities for the motorist as well as leisure facilities, duty-free shopping and the administration offices for the project. It's interesting to speculate as to the value of opening up these transnational areas to international business practice. Would they have become the new Cayman Islands? Devoid of national laws and regulation, would they become a new hub of international finance with more 'filing cabinet headquarters' for the multinationals?

With the Etoile de Varne, Gamond pre-speculated this for us: The island in the centre would be the first international privately held entity since the island of Cyprus was home to the Knights Templar in the mid-12th century. Gamond calculated that 170 million tonnes of Earth would be excavated for the purposes of the tunnel and rather than simply place these tonnes on the mainland either side, he proposed the construction of a synthetic island. Despite the illustration, the plan proposed a seven-pointed star layout for the base (hence the translation) almost half of which would be given up to the activity of ports - the idea being that it would act as a gateway for international trade in Europe, exempt from the quibbles of national beurocracy. It would require a new and unique set of laws, specific to it's duties with little or no civic administration, being purely a business hub managed jointly by a European consortium.

The Etoile... was taken seriously at the time, as the first proposal to be based on real engineering data and to be submitted for governmental review, but the project was simply too massive and was dropped. The dream of the tunnel was eventually realised but the island never made it to reality. By the time construction had begun in 1996, the economies of Britain, France and most of northern Europe were focused on highly-specialised financial service industries. Manufacturing had dropped-off and the consumer economies of the European elite relied on cheap imports from the east rather than the bustling, trade bilateralism of Gamond's industrialised Europe.

The 19th century's free-trade internationalism had shifted it's focus to obscure financial instruments and formalised geographies in the world's various exceptional tax havens without the desire for grand engineering to fulfil it's needs. These grandiose projects have shifted from the physical to the fiscal in the post-industrial world, their appearance and architecture all but unnoticed except by the financial giants behind them. Unnoticed though they may be, they present a stronger alternative to state jurisdiction than Gamond's project ever could and it's these silent giants - the derivatives market in particular - that are now shifting the concentration of power from nations to traders.

5 Scenarios, 2 - Risk

2. Risk Is Rewarded

As was always expected, the advancing power of computers, pushed by the demands of the market, drove the speed and intensity of financial transactions to reach astronomical levels. The raw volume of financial traffic became practically incalculable and progressively more generalised measures and weights were put in place to try and humanise the numbers and quantities being traded. But, computers could never master the aspects of risk truly necessary to inflate the markets. Given a set of choices, the computer would always chose the most logical - the safest and most profitable, whether in the long or short term. But as econohistorians have pointed out for decades, humans are not logical, and it is precisely this unpredictable riskiness that gives a trading body it's strength.

Under Old Capitalism, the consumer was forced, by the system, to work. Whether in pornography or researching for Microsoft, the consumer was forced to work in order that they produce and consume but the derivative economy does not reward acquisition. Life is provided for in food and living space but risk is rewarded. Where a successful financial officer of old might wear tailored suits and expensive watches, drive rare cars and own lofty property to show his successes, a successful risker only has the credibility of his gambles to show.

Wagers on risk-success between traders began in the late 20th century as a casual show of machismo and bravado for men and women who thrived on competition - the greater the risk, the greater the rewards. Institutions soon capitalised on this, the framework of new banking and deregulation allowed them to goad their staff into higher and higher levels of risk-taking, not for financial reward, but for status and the jealous respect of their peers.

The greatest riskers always had celebrity status within their own circles but as the onus of societal reward shifted from acquisition to risk and flux, they became Imelda Marcos' of risk - international monuments to achievement.

A) Algorithmic Horn

Beginning initially as a pun on the bull markets, traders begin to wear horns. But as biotechnology leaps forward and consumerism leaps back, it becomes a thing of status to grow horns in the shape of the risk algorithms the trader prefers to use. The size and intricacy of the patterns used in the engineering of the horns reflect the bravado of the transactions undertaken.

Riskers seek the the thrill of an expensive gamble, the chemicals activated in the brain feed the engineered mutations that grow the horns and without regular 'hits', the horns begin to wither and shrink.

The Post-American World

A close alignment with my own preference for predicting a new status quo on the back of a liberalised free market, Fareed Zakaria's Post-American World argues not for the collapse of nations or even America but that certainly it's total dominance over economics and politics is being weakened.

This will mean more than another nation stepping up to the fill the void. The philosophies of the rising nations of China and India will actually change the way we think of superpowers. China's foreign investments don't demand social or cultural change unlike the US' policy of spreading their own model of democracy to nations deemed wanting. He also believes that government intervention is ultimately responsible for the extremes of the failings of free-market capitalism, in particular, the US brand of interventionism and had the conditions been present in China then the collapse could plausibly have been avoided.

One disagreement I have is over Zakaria's state-centricism. He talks of countries as still remaining the dominant global power entities while downplaying the role of transnational actors such as the UN, Multinational Corporations and activists - the type of bodies I see as becoming more powerful while those entities restricted by political boundaries become weakened.

It's good to find other sources, as always, often from varied and surprising sources that lend a new angle to my project, or certainly point to similar thinking dimensions. The problem remains however of how to reconcile this great theoretical economic future work with design principles that can lead to an engaging reality.

Sliced analogies or vignettes seem to lose some of the lustre and grandiosity of looking at the entirety of a situation - zooming out and seeing the whole world and all of history in one vision is something not easily achievable and possibly what I'm struggling with at the core of my work, and also something which I've only found approachable through large blocks of text.

5 Scenarios, 1: 88.4

I'm going to be forumlating and extrpolating on five scenarios that might evolve from the world I've been working in. A few of them have already been realised to an extent but others will be new and less developed.

88.4 degrees lattitude

The Merrill Lynch Light Banking Vehicle Bull cruises along 88.1 - 88.4 degrees latitude. At a cruising speed of anywhere between 30 and 40 knots, this gives it the ability to skip between banking zones at will. This decoupling of the financial institutions from political control and their legal ascent into transnationalism lead to a proliferation of innovations by the banking sector into ways in which the Earth could be used to gain advantage over competitors. Merrill Lynch took early advantage of this, clearing a channel for the movement of ships using icebreakers during a six month project.

Suicide was a problem on the early voyages of the Bull. The staff of bankers were not only victim to the psychosomatic problems of seasonal affective disorder and the various neurosis of long-term arctic life but were aggravated by the new pressures put on them by the perceived importance of their roles. The success of the venture ensured the continual expansion of the Merrill Lynch fleet and after stifling legal battles, other institutions started to place their own vehicles in the arctic regions.

There are even rumours of Goldman Sachs investing in raised railway tracks for the antarctic, although the volume of financial traffic this vehicle could handle would be significantly lower than a large ship.

A Brief History at the RCA Work In Progress Show

Here's a full printed version of A Brief History of The Common Economic Agreement and Its Components as seen at the Work In Progress Show.

A Brief History of The Common Economic Agreement and Its Components

A Brief History of The Common Economic Agreement and Its Components

A Brief History of The Common Economic Agreement and Its Components

Also, the animation, showing sampled vignettes from the Agreement:

The Light Banking Vehicle Bull circumnavigates the Earth in 24 hours at 88.4 degrees latitude, moving between banking zones at whim.

Euronext Relay 3 lies at the halfway point of the shortest direct route between Amsterdam and New York, the location of two of the western world's two largest derivative trading centres.

The city is a place of vast disparity and competition with a feudal economy totally centered on the acquisition and trading of derivatives.

Recent Images

"Head On" - Cai Guo-Qiang

Ceiling Lights by Lightbox

Groundhog Day

Reflection on Prediction

A Brief History... with Jaemin

At the RCA private view the timeline - inspired a lot of debate, a lot more than I'd hoped for in fact from visitors - both strangers and friends. To the friends it was easy to explain that I wasn't trying to predict the future, I was simply extrapolating based on the current state of and position of economics. To strangers, this was harder - 'but it IS a prediction.'

Not really, the valid point was raised that knowing about the future allows us to mitigate for it. China's untenable economy will undoubtedly crash. This is foreseen by almost all mainstream economists and political theorists, and they can set a relatively accurate date for this catastrophe, but I'm not an economic millienialist and you won't catch me standing out the RCA screaming at the sky and handing out pamphlets - 'the end is nigh' style.

These crashes are indicative of the systems we put in place. Our economics, our politics our civilisation depends on booms and crashes - they redistribute wealth, they bring awareness, they often highlight the goodies and the baddies and force those with elected responsibility to at least take on the appearance of doing something - anything to solve the world's problems. Think of the outrage and backlash against the financial services, once admired and revered by politicians and the public alike as western economic stalwarts, once the ease of their corruptibility and their blatant disregard of moral hazard were brought to light in late 2008.

Our minds, once gathered into the mob, need baddies and goodies, need linear simplification, need scapegoats and specific instances, turning points, and events of almost filmic suitability that we can then tack the events that have embroiled us around them. The point of the timeline was not to predict the financial future but to draw out a strand of historic repetition dating back to the beginning of civilisation that relies on these clashes, these villains, these events and those who take advantage of them, whatever their form may be.

This perhaps answers the second point often raised - why was I condoning rampant capitalism? First, the specifics of the research and the design envisioned a post-capitalist world: Without wanting to rant about capitalism; (a contentious subject for any liberal lefty, open-minded transnationalist) it's the best humanity has ever had. And the specifics of destroying flat currency and the growth of a civilisation devoted to the single minded attribution and attainment of almost ethereal and obscure financial instruments defies the physical, consumerist and ownership concepts of capitalism. Most futures and derivatives are only held on to for seconds or minutes and are viewed as items to be kept in flux, not hoarded. Second: design activism always seems to be AGAINST powers and establishments. What if the markets were loosed on the world? Given early teething stages would they actually bring a conflict-cancelling balance that would trump the political side-stepping wranglings of consulting democracies?

I'm hoping to spend some time down there this week, and hopefully there'll be more debate with visitors and critics. I'll try and keep track of it all.

Recent Photos: Work In Progress Special

Private View


A Brief History...

LCC Chaps

Private View

Private View

More, as ever on flickr.